Thursday, January 29, 2009

St Francis de Sales

I've tried, and failed, I'll admit, to read St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life - oddly, since I find Fr Faber's perfervid prose fine, and ditto for St Louis de Montfort, somehow the Baroque style of de Sales doesn't sit well with me: too much sugar?

In any case, far be it from me to do anything but laud the great works of St Francis de Sales, who (as his hagiographic lesson says) by the help of God converted 72,000 Calvinist and other heretics to the Catholic Faith by his indefatigable preaching of the Divine Word and writing - "By his writings recording heavenly doctrine he enlightened the Church" - and so he was declared by Bl Pius IX a Doctor of the Church.

His Collect, composed by Pope Alexander VII:
Deus, qui ad animarum salutem beatum Franciscum Confessorem tuum atque Pontificem omnibus omnia factum esse voluisti: concede propitius; ut caritatis tuæ dulcedine perfusi, ejus dirigentibus monitis ac suffragantibus meritis, æterna gaudia consequamur.  Per...

(God, Who for the salvation of souls willed blessed Francis Thy Confessor and Pontiff to be made all things to all men [cf. I Cor. ix, 22]: graciously grant, that imbued with the sweetness of Thy love, by his directing admonitions and assisting merits, we may attain eternal joys.  Through...)
One of my missals provides the proper Mass of St Francis de Sales for his daughters, the nuns of the Order of the Visitation.  The Epistle is Ephesians iii, 7-21, and the Offertory, Apoc. ii, 19: "I know thy works and thy faith, and thy charity, and thy ministry, and thy patience, and thy last works, which are more than the former."  There is even a proper Preface:
Vere dignum... per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Qui Ecclesiæ suæ beatum Franciscum Pastorem juxta cor suum suscitavit, ut scriptis, sermonibus et exemplis pietatem corroboraret et aspera converteret in vias planas.  Quique illum suæ lenitatis spiritu tam mirabiliter adimplevit, ut non solum indurata peccatorum corda ad pœnitentiam flecteret, sed et rebelles tot hæreticorum mentes ad fidei catholicæ unitatem revocaret.
Et ideo...

(Truly worthy... through Christ our Lord.
(Who raised up for His Church blessed Francis as a Shepherd after His own Heart [cf. Jer. iii, 15], to strengthen piety by his writings, sermons and examples and to convert rough places into level paths [cf. Is. xl, 4].  Who also so marvellously filled him with a spirit of gentleness [cf. Gal. vi, 1], that not only did he bend the hard hearts of sinners to penitence, but recalled the rebel minds of many heretics to the unity of the Catholic Faith.
(And therefore...)
May he pray for us before the Face of God in heaven, that still to-day he may fulfil his God-given mission of grace, as an ambassador for Christ calling all of us to unity of Faith and right conduct, that the Lord may deign to work again such wonders through him that the sinner may repent and the heretic believe aright.

(It is a little-known fact that the Oratorians lay claim to St Francis de Sales, since it is thought that he met, if not St Philip Neri himself, then his close disciples, and at one stage sought to establish an Oratory in his area of operations prior to his becoming a bishop.)


Anonymous said...

You wrote: 'blessed Francis Thy Confessor and Pontiff'. Shouldn't that be 'Bishop'? My books (Monastic Diurnal and Matins) have 'Blessed Francis, thy Bishop and Confessor', in that order, which is the usual one, but I can see that the Latin puts it the other way round.

Joshua said...

As you will notice, I try and translate the Latin very literally (since I'm not really very able), and so, since the Latin says "Confessorem tuum atque Pontificem" I rendered this as "Thy Confessor and Pontiff" - or even more literally, "Confessor Thine and moreover Pontiff".

In Latin prayers, Pontifex (Pontiff) is probably the more common synonym for Episcopus (Bishop): recall that Pontifex comes from Pons facere, to make a bridge: a Bishop, as High Priest, having the fulness of the priesthood instituted by the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, and being therefore a sacramental icon of Him, partakes in Christ of His role as the Bridge-builder between Heaven and Earth, between outraged Heaven and sinful, far-fallen Man.

It is thus extremely perceptive, right and just to call a Bishop a Pontiff, since it is his role, under Christ and in His service, to act to build bridges, that the sinner may be made a saint, that all the souls in his care may come nigh unto Christ through his all-unworthy ministry.

Just as St Paul says the Apostles (those sent forth, as the Greek indicates) are Ambassadors for Christ, so the Latin Church adopted the rich title of Pontifex for Bishops.

Recall that the Pope uses the old Roman title of Pontifex Maximus, or bridge-builder-in-chief, signifying his special ministry of serving and sustaining the unity of all Christians in the one fold of the Redeemer.

Curiously, the old pagan Pontifex Maximus was also in charge of the sewage workers of Rome, who wore red uniforms - that's why the Cardinals do to-day!

As for Confessor, it signifies one who confesses or professes the Holy Faith - originally, it was used for those who were 'almost' Martyrs (witnesses for the Faith even unto death) but who, though perhaps tortured, exiled, imprisoned or stript of possessions, were not in fact put to death, even though they remained stedfast in their belief. Gradually, the idea that one could be regarded as a saint like one of the Martyrs, worthy of having one's anniversary kept with a celebration of the Eucharist in one's honour, worthy of being trusted to pray for one in heaven, even if one were not put to death, gave rise to the new category of Confessor, which over time lost its earlier meaning and came to mean all those canonized - put on the official list of saints -who were not Martyrs.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected about 'Pontiff', having at first thought that was used only to designate a Pope.

Thank you, too, for the additional information about Confessors.